Can you believe that in just a few days David & I will celebrate our first anniversary of living here on Sutherland Avenue? Where has the time gone? On December 23rd of last year I received the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten. Although it came a little early, I received another special gift this year.
A couple of weeks ago, David and I were settling in for a traditional college football Saturday. Actually, he was. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do all day. Then the phone rang. The lady on the other end of the line was Sally Hiers. She said that her friend had once lived in our home. She was wondering if we would mind if they stopped by since they happened to be in town. Oh my! How quickly a day can change! I assured her that I had no plans for the day and would be very excited for them to visit. She thanked me and said that they would be over within the hour.I must mention that this would not be their first visit. A few months earlier, they stopped by when I wasn’t at home. David was however, and gave them a tour. He encouraged them to come back again when I would be at home and expressed how deeply disappointed I would be that I missed their visit. He hit the nail on the head. If I had came home and been told that Barack Obama stopped by for a visit, I wouldn’t have been any more disappointed. I was getting my second chance!
This “previous resident” we are talking about is Peggy Stafford Parker. She lived in our home from 1950-1965. When she and her friend Sally came to the door, I could tell she was a little nervous. As we were introducing ourselves, I happened to notice her earrings. They were peace signs. If you know anything about me, you know that would certainly get my attention. I said to myself, “Hmmmm?” I wondered if the earrings held the same meaning to her as they did to me? In hopes of putting her at ease, I said, “I really like your earrings.” She thanked me and the subject quickly changed back to the house. (Hold on folks. There’s more to the earring story than meets the eye.)
For the next 2 hours, the stories flowed.
She started out with a sweet story about her previous visit with David. They had stopped by unannounced. Peggy was concerned that he might think they weren’t being truthful about the fact that she had once lived in our home. When they came to the door, she started to explain to him why she was there. Then suddenly it came to her just how she could prove that she had once lived in our home. She said, “I can prove that I used to live here because I know there are 17 steps up that staircase. I remember counting them many times as my mother marched me up them for one reason or another.” (After her visit, I couldn’t help myself. As I ascended the stairs that evening, I had to count. She was right on the money, 17 steps!)
Her parents bought the home when she was 2 years old. The home that she described was nothing like the home we saw back in March 2016. She said that throughout the years when she was in town, she would drive by with her children and her mother. In recent years, it just became too painful as the house fell into disrepair. Sadly, she stopped driving by all together. Then one day she was in town to visit her attorney who asked if she had been by her childhood home lately? She explained that she hadn’t for several years and why. The attorney told her that he’d heard that someone had bought the home and was undertaking a complete renovation. She drove by that very day. We had her attention!
Okay, back to the house tour. We started at the front door and moved our way through the house. Her sharing stories and me asking questions.
She said she could remember putting a pillow on top of the newel post and pretend it was her horse. She stood in the front room and painted a picture of how the room looked when she was young. Curtains and blinds, and 2 velvet sofas made this her mother’s formal sitting room. The front corner was where they always put their Christmas tree.
A few days after Peggy’s visit she was so kind as to send me photographs she had of the house during the time that she lived here. Here are a few taken in the front room.
Just as a reminder, here is a photo of that same fireplace in 2016.
Peggy went on to tell me about her memories of her mother waking her to go to school on cold winter mornings. She said she would run downstairs to eat her breakfast near the stove attached to the fireplace in the room opposite the sitting room. (You can catch a glimpse of this room in the photo above.) Her mother would always have her school clothes laid out so they could warm by the fire.
The next room, the one beside the kitchen was a bit of a surprise. She called it the piano room. Her father and her brother were quite musical and both played the piano. I found that quite fascinating. Her memories of the kitchen weren’t as clear as she would have liked but she did have something interesting to say about our laundry room. It was where they ate their meals. She remembered her brother putting his veggies in a vase that hung on the wall or spitting them out the window. I thought that was quite funny since David has similar childhood memories.
Here’s another interesting tidbit that somewhat surprised me. When we purchased the home the back porch had been enclosed. One side was a utility room. The other side was a second bathroom. Peggy said that when she lived here she never used that bathroom because it had already fallen into disrepair. This was in the mid 50’s. I was surprised as I had imagined the porch was enclosed around that time (50s-60s) but according to Peggy it must have been much earlier. I wish I had more information about when that renovation took place.
Next we made our way out to the backyard. You could practically see the memories flooding Peggy’s head. My dad’s fishing boat was always parked over by the fence she said and mom had 3 clotheslines that came together at a point in the middle. There was an old shed (where our shed is now) that mom always told me to never go inside because it was unsafe. That struck me as strange for 2 reasons. One, just like the second bathroom, it’s amazing how buildings can go downhill so fast. That shed had been there, at the most, 40 years, and it was already unsafe. The second reason was that during the renovation, the crew came across a foundation in that corner. With no indication of any structure ever being there as part of this home, we were led to wonder if it might have been a building that was part of the old Orange Grove Plantation which included this area. Well, now we know!
Here is a photo of Peggy in the backyard by the old shed.
There’s the clothesline! This is Peggy with her dad and her cats. She said there were always cats around. I found that to be very interesting since folks in this neighborhood refer to our house as the “cat house”.
And here’s a photo beside the now famous shed with Peggy and her brother (right) and his friend showing off their catch from the Ashley River.
Folks, we haven’t even made it upstairs yet. In case you’re wondering what David and Sally were doing during all this, did you forget? It’s football Saturday! They were watching the games while we were walking down memory lane.
As we made our way up the 17 steps, Peggy began to tell me a story about the Citadel where her mom worked in the library for over 20 years. Of course, at that time only men attended the school. But in the summertime, women were allowed to take classes. Her mother would rent rooms to girls that lived out of town. The girls liked staying at their home so much that they stayed there year after year. They slept on cots, in the guest room or in Peggy’s room. It sounded like one big pajama party! At that time students didn’t have to wear uniforms in the summer and they had regular sock hops!
Another interesting story Peggy shared as we stood in what had been her bedroom, was about the zoo at Hampton Park. Many of you may not know that Hampton Park once had its very own zoo. Peggy said that she could lay in bed at night, and if the wind was just right, she could hear the lion roar! This was very impressive to her friends at sleepovers she remembered.
I asked Peggy if she had any supernatural experiences while she lived here? This is the story she told. She said that after her dad passed away, sometimes she would sleep in her mom’s room. One night they heard the piano play 3 or 4 notes. Even though they were both frightened, her mother decided to go down to inspect and found nothing. Now keep in mind, her father played the piano and had recently passed away. A few nights later, they heard the same thing with the same results. There was no explanation. They concluded it was probably a mouse. Now, if you met Peggy you would know pretty quickly that she is a practical person. It would be her nature to come up with a practical explanation, which would most likely be correct. But, as we both agreed, you never know!
When we started back down the stairs, she gave a little gasp. I asked her if there was anything wrong? She said, “No, I just looked over in the sitting room and saw our Christmas tree sitting in the corner.
The stories were intertwined with memories of the neighborhood where children had the run of the city as a playground. The corner store that we now know as Harold’s Cabin, was the hub of the neighborhood. She remembers it simply as Mr. Samuel’s store.
Many times during her visit she reflected on just how happy her childhood was here in our home. She said more than once that it was just the perfect way to grow up. I could tell by the peaceful look on her face that must have been true. Here are a few more of her photographs of those days.
This photo was taken across the street. That’s Peggy on the right peeking around the column.
Peggy on her graduation day. This photo was taken across the street on what was then a vacant lot. You can see our house on the right in the background.
Peggy with a neighbor’s grandchildren. Again, you can see our house in the background on the left. Peggy is on the left.
Off course, no such visit would be complete without a photograph of the two of us. When I mentioned it, she was reluctant. She said she wasn’t appropriately dressed for a photograph. I begged to differ as she had on a nice sweater with some sort of t-shirt underneath. As I encouraged her that she looked fine, I asked what did her t-shirt say? And that’s when it happened. Folks, this story is about to change gears.
When Peggy showed me her t-shirt, I immediately felt joy in my heart. We shared much more than old Sutherly. Reading those words expressed to me that we were of like minds in more ways than one. I mentioned to her that David & I had just the night before, attended a protest rally at the Citadel. Do you know what her response was? She said, “That’s why we came to Charleston this weekend! We were there too!” Re-“sisters” on the spot! It was almost magical.
Here’s where the earrings come into play. I said to her, “When I saw your peace sign earrings I wondered to myself, “Hmmm?” Then she said, “When you said that you liked my peace sign earrings, I thought to myself, Hmmm?” I immediately ran upstairs to put on my Women’s March shirt and we were ready to roll! We both discovered a lot about the house and about each other on that football Saturday.
I hope that you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane that I was so privileged to take with my new friend Peggy. It brought to me great joy and a new friendship. But with joy sometimes come sadness. As much as I think Peggy enjoyed our visit, I think she was a bit sad also. She said as she was leaving, “I just wished I had someone to share this with.” I knew what she meant. Her grandparents, parents, brother and most of the people she share this part of her life with are now gone. What joy it would bring her to be able to share the day with someone who was part of those memories. What joy it would bring us all if sometimes, we could just go home again.
And thus, the song… Until next time folks, peace out!